For all educators reading this post, have you ever had a moment when a student does something for another student that just melts your heart? Those moments make our jobs worth every second of planning, photocopying, and management. This past week in one of my classes, one in which has a particularly high population of students with 504s and Individualized Education Programs (IEP)s, I witnessed one of those heart warming moments.
One of my more accelerated students voluntarily took the time to work one-on-one with another classmate, one who is classified with an IEP, has significant behavioral issues, and works with a teacher’s aid. The accelerated student was patient, coaching his classmate through the packet, ensuring that he got clarification on questions, and ultimately, completed the packet. What was even more touching was that the accelerated student himself still had work to get done, yet insisted on working with his peer. Moreover, on this day I saw this particular class section twice because of the block scheduling. In both classes the accelerated student adamantly worked with his peer.
As a teacher, I could not be more proud of the accelerated student for helping the other student out and modeling such leadership. However, many questions arose in my head as I watch their interaction. I know this particular student with the IEP does not work well with most students, but this is an exception. The student is certainly capable of completing his tasks, but who else in the class, could he and would he want to work with? Who would keep him focused and motivated to learn? As an educator, am I doing enough blended groupings and team-based activities to build bridges between my more accelerated students and less accelerated students? How can I improve my classroom culture to encourage more students, such as this particular accelerated student, to take on leadership roles in our classroom community.
In a previous post, I mentioned the benefits of heterogenous grouping and am a firm believer in differentiating lessons to accommodate the specific needs of my learners. Presenting lessons in a multimodal manner is also fruitful to target as many student learning styles as possible. How though, does one foster more leadership skills? One potential is to target leadership and teamwork through science discourse and our developing scientist identities.
Last week I discussed the need for students to culturally relate with the science curriculum and discourse. It is here, in this identity development, that I could perhaps also present science as a field comprised of interacting communities and teams of scientists, who build knowledge together (see constructivism). This mindset, paired with more integration of group based and even whole class collaboration to conduct essential scientific practices could be effective. Constructing Explanations, Engaging in Argument from Evidence and Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information, three of the eight scientific practices set forth by the Next Generation Science Standards, may also be ideal opportunities to build such teamwork and leadership in the classroom.
Lastly, even the act of assigning classroom roles may help foster leadership skills. As Berger, et al. (2015) mention:
[having a classroom job] helps every student learn responsibility and take pride in their classroom…Jobs open the door for active, collaborative contribution by the students to the health and well-being of the classroom community. Students demonstrate their respect for the learning process and for others by completing their jobs to the best of their abilities and growing through the effort. (p.58-60)
Such responsibility, respect, and sense of ownership are all qualities that make fantastic leaders and contribute to effective teamwork.
Berger, R., Strasser, D., & Woodin, L. (2015). Management in the Active Classroom. New York, NY: EL Education.